Stories of Weird Mystery

Month: March 2024

The Writer at Age Nine

Steven Spielberg and E.T.

If you think my work is juvenile now, let me tell you…it was much worse when I was in the fourth grade. The year was 1982, and an obscure director named Steven Spielberg was all over my mother’s entertainment magazines posing with a rubber puppet.

At nine years old, I discovered the idea that someone got PAID to entertain people with made up stories, which is something I’d been doing all my life for free like a chump.

Will Ludwigsen around age nine.
Rocking the Garanimal outfit!

(It’s important to mention that due to some mutation of ADHD or anxiety or schizophrenia, my brain was constantly buzzing with all sorts of random shit like during the credits of The Twilight Zone. I was effectively insane, talking or performing almost constantly even when nobody was around. Stories all but shot out of my eyeballs.)

Steven Spielberg showed me that one boy’s mental illness was a grown man’s career, and I started writing stories down in my famously meticulous handwriting.

My first completed story was called “Cats!”, built upon my assumption that the stage musical was simply a bunch of skits about cats doing funny things around the house.

I showed this brilliant work to my fourth-grade teacher Mr. Clark who, perhaps to gain a moment of peace, allowed me to read it aloud to the class. Their reaction was like water on a grease fire, and I began producing other works for their entertainment.

Most of them were sequels to my favorite films and TV shows.

You’ll notice perhaps that they are dialogue heavy with lots of exclamation points, mostly because – like the early primitive storytellers – they were meant to be performed. Some of them are just outlines of ideas that I’d improvise a story around when I was standing in front of the class.

What was their reaction? I remember mostly that they were relieved to be free of schoolwork and would occasionally offer up a few laughs at the funny parts.

Which was fine by me.

I tried my hand at comic book writing, too, though I had some weaknesses as an artist. Ultra-Dummy and the Legion of Stuffed Animals was the flagship production of a “company” started with my friend Garrett Albritton (hence the name W.A.G. for “Will and Garrett”).

Toward the end of my story-performing career in the seventh grade (when it was starting to get me teased instead of applauded), I wrote my first foray into 1963:

(Who’d have thought that 38 years later, my novella A Scout is Brave would also take place in 1963? Have you heard of it? It’s available for pre-order!)

My teacher Mrs. Kessel, who was mystified that I would only do extra credit reading and writing instead of the actual assigned curriculum, gave me an early blurb I could use on my books even now:

Your story was adorable! You are so funny…a future O. Henry or Steinbeck!

I wonder sometimes whether I’d have chosen writing as a vocation if I hadn’t been praised for it by teachers and family. If they’d loved my work with Lego, would I have been an engineer? Or if they told me I was brilliant at explaining things in a way idiots could understand, would I have gone into corporate training and communication?

I think writing is more fundamental to my personality than those other things for three reasons:

  • I get a thrill out of people’s reactions to it that I don’t get from anything else.
  • I also get a shiver of joy from capturing something exactly and specifically with language.
  • I’m willing to keep doing it even when it doesn’t turn out well.

These pencil scrawls on notebook paper are rather embarassing now; they show a lot more enthusiasm than ability. The only thing that came to me naturally about writing was doing it even when my brain was a scramble and I was bouncing off the walls

Maybe that’s the surest sign that you’ve found your life’s work: you keep doing it anyway.

Brunch with the Devil

Yesterday we went to the early showing of Late Night with the Devil, a movie that on paper seems to check all of the Will Ludwigsen boxes: 1970s milieu, found/hoaxed footage, psychic phenomenon, demonic possession, hypnosis, skeptics, and dramatic supernatural comeuppances.

A still from Late Night with the Devil.

But when it started with five different production studio logos including Shudder, I got a little worried.

The film turned out to be 85% an amazing movie, with the other 15% comprised of some clumsy missteps, unnecessary explanations, and at least two more endings than it needed.

Of course, I’m suffering from a professional’s myopia here: that 15% is probably just what I’d have done differently, not some absolute or even arguable measure of quality. I’d have stuck more strictly to the found footage without as much behind the scenes, toned back some special effects, and trusted the story more.

Still, it was designed fabulously and included amazing performances, especially by David Dastmalchian and Ingrid Torelli. I enjoyed it, even with its flaws.

A lot of my (perhaps unfair) reaction to Late Night with the Devil is probably that it provoked so many ideas of how I’d have written it if the idea had come to me first. I see a lot of the ghosts of my unwritten stories out in the world, and this film called to mind one of the few writerly superstitious beliefs I still hold:

If you don’t write that story idea, it will find someone else.

I tell students that ideas aren’t all that important, that it’s the collision of the personal (their own experiences and weirdness) with stimulation from the zeitgeist that is their only real hope of originality. I absolutely believe that.

But there’s no question that we share a lot of the same stimuli in our culture, and the idea that you think is extraordinary and just for you may only be visiting. You’ve got to grab that out of the sea and club it with the oar before it swims away to someone else.

Late last year, I came upon this tweet by Bernard T. Joy, and the sick emptiness in my heart after reading it told me it was true:

I’m a slow writer. Actually, that’s not true: I’m a sporadic writer, working in sudden explosive bursts between a litany of excuses about feeling too tired, depressed, harried, or hopeless to do it.

An experience like Late Night with the Devil, one that almost but not quite pushes all my buttons, both saddens and energizes me. It’s an idea that found a different writer, but maybe if I show up more consistently, the next one will choose me instead.

A Scout is Going on a Book Tour, Sort Of

I wish you’d all stop asking me for more content to promote my forthcoming book, A Scout is Brave. I’m working as fast as I can.

In the meantime, book tour news!

This coming week from March 14th through the 16th, I’ll be kicking off my A Scout is Brave Half-Assed Book Tour at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando.

Will Ludwigsen holding up a bookmark of his book A Scout is Brave.

You can catch me reading from A Scout is Brave at a 4:15 panel on Thursday, serving as the undercard well beneath actual luminaries James Morrow, Ellen Kushner, and Eileen Gunn.

I will also have fancy bookmarks to give away plus TWO advance reading copies of the actual physical book (with the hope that whoever gets each will kindly post a review).

Other stops on the ASBHABT include:

I’m not sure yet if I’ll be on programming for any of those events, but you can certainly find me at the Lethe Press table in the Dealer’s Room for the first two.

Stay tuned for an announcement soon with details about the actual launch of the book in late June!

Would you like me to tour my book for your blog, podcast, or event? Let me know!

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